Food for the soul is essential, says Gastrono-me's Gemma Simmonite
Having just experienced hallowe’en last week, which also included a trip to the ever brilliantly terrifying Scaresville, I can tell you confidently that we’ve just been through something far more blood-curdling. Something that brought us out in a cold sweat far faster than being chased by a marauding pack of clowns. Moving house. All the horror, thrills and spills packed into one long, long exhausting fraught weekend.
Now we all know the statistics: the very act of moving house tops the stress charts, and it’s been proven it can actually trigger as much anxiety as a divorce or bereavement. But it’s not just the anxiety, the exhaustion, the backache, or the endless packing, I find it’s more the disorientation and the chaos.
Due to the lack of order, you never remember where you last put the packing tape, you constantly lose the only bottle opener (much needed) and that’s before we’ve even entered the new house. The idea of moving your entire life is emotional, and whereas it’s off-putting to most, to pack-rats like us it’s damn right disturbing. As I worked my way through each room, it was very clear we are clearly borderline hoarders. Every school book ever scrawled into, kept. Every single piece of artwork, kept – and we’re not talking masterpieces here, a squiggle on a napkin, a handprint on a disintegrating autumn leaf! These are the items that are now residing in our new spare room – 20 full-size boxes entitled ‘memory boxes’.
At one point it felt like I was on a constant loop as I directed removal guys to the spare room as they queried for the 50th time “memory box?”. We did do a mass clear out, of course we did. So much so that we were practically on first name terms with most of the staff at the tip. Bags for charity flew out with abandon, and at the time it was headily liberating. But now at the other end, I’m still wondering how do we still have so much stuff?
I guess it’s these things, this ‘stuff’ that sews us together. The upheaval is massive. It’s emotional, and certainly helped along by finding a teeny first pair of shoes that were once worn by your now 20-year-old who’s uni bound and living in another city. Reading old love letters that come fluttering out of a book like a butterfly takes you right back to your first beautiful months as a couple. It then has a knock-on effect, one box leads to another, until both Mike and I, and the rest of the family, were all cross-legged teary-eyed, nostalgic messes.
So, lo and behold came moving day, and yes, we were still packing. The poor removal guys eyed our efforts with pain on their faces. At the other end when it was finally over, and the tension had somewhat eased, I dared to ask “So, were we the most disorganised people you’ve ever moved?” He replied:, “Not the most, but you came very, very close.” He apparently told us after, that when the professionals pack for you they can do it in half the time, mainly because they don’t get side-tracked by memories, nostalgia or teeny tiny shoes!
Of course when we did start to unpack at the new house I unpacked the kitchen first. Most of the family had no beds to sleep in, but rest assured my cookery books were unpacked and arranged instantly. I can’t help it, the kitchen always feels like the central hub of the home, and seems to have a gravitational pull: Yes, food is, of course, made there. Recipes researched there, but also tea doled out, homework helped with, lives caught up with in that room. . . So you’d think with all that, we’d have enjoyed nutritious meals from the get go in our new abode? Sadly not, I stocked the fridge, acquainted myself with our new appliances, arranged my utensils. But at the end of every long unpacking day, I’m sad to say we predictably reached for the pizza menu. It got to about the third day when we practically felt scurvy approaching, so much so was our craving for something fresh and green. It was this that forced me to actually cook in my pretty new kitchen. What to cook though? Something quick, something easy, but more so, something comforting was needed.
I chose one of our family favourites, a big bowl of our slurpy stir fried vegetable udon noodles. Guaranteed comfort. All fresh, fabulously fast, and completely delicious, plus the positive that only one wok was needed (I hadn’t located the dishwasher tablets or tea towels yet).
There is just something about a steaming bowl of noodles that feels good for your soul. Most dishes stock based seem to have this magical effect. I love that the simple yet beautifully complex chicken soup recipe I have in one of my cookery books is entitled ‘Jewish penicillin’. Such is it’s curative and restorative effect. The slurping is important too, (people with Misophonia issues stop reading here) and I think it’s the slurping that probably first made it a family favourite when our children were younger. All of us completely complicit in our noisy eating, at a normally well-mannered dinner table!
But the slurping I’ve since discovered is far more scientific than just appreciating your noodles loudly. It’s a matter of olfaction – in much the same way we sniff our wine deeply and let it slide across our tongue to truly appreciate it’s flavour. It’s the same with noodles. When you slurp them vigorously, you can fully experience the aroma exploding in your mouth. So, on that fourth evening in this house we ate our noodles noisily together, and it began to start feeling a little less strange, and a little more like home. And without realising it we’d started to make a new memory, and the plus was it didn’t even need a box!
Stir Fried Udon Noodle in Vegetable Broth
340g Udon noodles
500ml of vegetable bouillon or stock
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of mixed garlic
2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon of miso paste
2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil
1 red chilli finely sliced
2 carrots sliced into thin julienne strips
1 red pepper sliced thinly
1 red onion sliced
60g mushrooms sliced
1 small pak choi head
1 handful of edamame beans or soya beans
1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds for serving
A couple of sprigs of coriander for serving
It’s a good idea for this recipe to get all your vegetables chopped and ready, as once you’re ready to stir fry, the dish will go very quickly and practically be ready.
Make up the stock as recommended in the instructions. Also add 1 tablespoon of the miso paste and 1 teaspoon of dark soy sauce, keep this simmering gently in a large stock pot.
Warm your vegetable oil in your wok or large frying pan, add your garlic and sizzle gently.
Add your carrots, onions, red pepper and red chilli to the wok first, and turn the heat fairly high and stir fry them, moving constantly, for a minute or so. At this point put your udon noodles into the stock, they don’t need a lot of time in the broth as they are already cooked, gently move them around to prevent them from sticking, being careful not to break them.
Now add the pak choi and the mushrooms to the wok, and the remaining soy sauce, and stir fry for another minute.
Add 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil to your stir fry and throw in your edamame beans now.
Now pour the contents of your wok into the udon noodle broth, and gently warm for another three minutes. Season to taste, and add your remaining sesame oil. Serve up into deep bowls, and finish with the toasted sesame seeds and fragrant coriander. All that is needed now is chopsticks, lots of napkins and a shedding of your inhibitions!
Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, on Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds